You can help save the life of a family member, co-worker or friend.

Every 40 seconds, someone in the U.S. has a stroke. Every 4 minutes, someone dies as a result.

You can help change that.

When treated immediately, many stroke patients make a full recovery. It starts with quickly recognizing the symptoms, and that’s where you come in.

BE FAST. It’s a simple pneumonic that can help you recognize that someone may be having a stroke.

B – Balance. Sudden loss of balance or coordination, or a sense of vertigo, like the room is spinning
E – Eyes. Sudden loss of vision in one or both eyes
F – Face. Sudden weakness on one side of face, or a facial droop
A – Arm. Sudden arm or leg weakness or numbness
S – Speech. Sudden slurred speech or trouble speaking
T – Time to call 9-1-1.


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Any one of these symptoms can indicate a stroke. Patients are often unable to recognize what’s happened to them or can’t communicate, so many times it’s up to a bystander to see symptoms and call 9-1-1.

A stroke occurs when a blood vessel that carries oxygen and nutrients to the brain is either blocked by a clot or bursts. When that happens, part of the brain cannot get the blood and oxygen it needs, so brain cells begin to die immediately.

Dr. Karin Olds,
Vascular Neurologist and
Stroke Medical Director at
Saint Luke’s Health System

“Time is brain,” said Dr. Karin Olds, Vascular Neurologist and Stroke Medical Director at Saint Luke’s Health System. “If you see any of these symptoms, sit the person down in a safe place, and call 9-1-1.”

During the past 20 years, new drugs and surgical procedures have dramatically improved stroke patients’ outcomes, but those treatments only work within the first few hours after a stroke starts.

“You cannot reverse stroke symptoms after a certain amount of time, and that time is different for everybody,” said Dr. Olds. “It comes back to getting help right away.”

For patients in rural communities, that means getting to a stroke-ready community hospital quickly. There, CT scans can help determine the source of the stroke, and physicians can coordinate with specialists like Dr. Olds to determine if the patient is a candidate for special clot-busting drugs or surgical procedures.

The drugs can be started at the community hospital, and often the patient is then flown by LifeFlight Eagle to a comprehensive stroke center at a major hospital in Kansas City or Columbia, where more advanced therapies and surgical procedures are available.

While en route, LifeFlight Eagle’s critical-care flight nurse and flight paramedic continue administration of the clot-busting drug, continuously monitor vital signs, and treat the patient to ensure blood pressures stay within tight parameters to prevent serious side effects of the powerful medication.

Sometimes local EMS will elect to have LifeFlight Eagle fly a patient directly from an ambulance to a comprehensive stroke center to ensure they reach definitive treatment as quickly as possible.

Dr. Olds said that strokes usually happen suddenly – one of the BE FAST symptoms will pop up quickly, or someone will quickly develop the worst headache of their life.

“Those symptoms cannot be ignored. But we do see folks who start off with mild symptoms,” said Dr. Olds. “Then they get worse, but they wait and come in the next day. Many times that’s a stroke we don’t have any way to reverse. We can do good rehabilitation evaluation but we can’t open the vessel in the brain and restore what brain that has been lost.”

That’s why even small stroke symptoms must be taken seriously.

Sometimes stroke symptoms appear, but then seem to resolve themselves and go away. Patients may want to ignore these episodes, but they should be immediately evaluated by a stroke specialist. They may be mini-strokes called Transient Ischemic Attacks or TIAs, that can be precursors to a large stroke episode. Even if the symptoms disappear, the patient should seek immediate evaluation by a stroke specialist.

Dr. Olds implores people to learn to BE FAST and to react quickly.

“We have great saves. We have lots of folks we’ve brought in with big strokes who walked out within days. It’s all based on them getting help right away.”

Family and bystanders provide information valuable to EMS, stroke specialists

Information from family members or bystanders is critical to help EMS and stroke specialists to quickly determine the best treatment for patients.

If you see a sudden onset of stroke symptoms, call 9-1-1 immediately. Though 9-1-1 dispatchers will note the time, it is helpful to remember know that time as well for later conversations with EMS and stroke specialists.

If you discover someone who may have developed symptoms overnight or when someone was not with them, call 9-1-1, then try to learn the last time they interacted with someone. For example, did they have dinner with someone, play cards with friends, or have a phone conversation with someone before they went to bed? This “last known well” time plays an important role for neurologists to know the correct treatments to pursue.

Share contact information for family with EMS and the hospital. It is valuable for neurologists to talk with family members to learn about the patient’s baseline wellness. For example, did they have any pre-existing weakness, disability or injury?

Bring a list of medications and contact information for the patient’s primary care doctor and any specialists. Some medications like blood thinners can have serious side effects when combined with clot-busting stroke drugs. Stroke specialists need to know what medications the patient takes so they can potentially reverse the effects of a blood thinner before giving clot-busting stroke treatment.

Having this information readily available can save valuable time and help neurologists make the best decisions on treatment.

Consider creating a “File of Life” refrigerator magnet for all members of the household. It is a small pouch with a simple form where you can list emergency contacts, physician information, a list of medication and any pre-existing conditions, among other things. When kept up to date, it is extremely helpful to EMS, physicians and family members to have this information readily available and in one place.

Stroke Facts:

  • Strokes are the 5th leading killer and number one cause of disability in the U.S.
  • 80% of strokes are preventable by managing risk factors
  • 25% of all strokes occur under the age of 65
  • Ischemic strokes (blood clots or blockages) account for 85% of strokes.
  • 32,000 brain cells die per second during a stroke
  • Each hour without treatment, the brain loses as many neurons as 3.6 years of normal aging
  • Think about it this way: If you have symptoms, but go to bed for 8 hours instead of seeking emergency help, it can be the equivalent of aging your brain 30 years overnight!
  • Smoking quadruples your risk for stroke
  • 800,000 Americans have a stroke each year
  • There are 7 million stroke survivors in the U.S.
  • 2/3 of survivors are disabled

Stroke Risk Factors:

  • High blood pressure
  • Smoking
  • Obesity
  • High cholesterol levels
  • Narrowed arteries
  • Diabetes
  • AFIB or arrhythmia
  • Previous stroke or Transient Ischemic Attack (TIA)
  • Family history of stroke
  • Age 65 or older
  • Smoking
  • Lack of exercise
  • Poor diet
  • Consuming more than 2 alcoholic drinks per day

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